|Judge Sitgraves acknowledged that the Islamic Association of Palestine was not on the terrorist organization list, but she said that it could be in the future.
LOS ANGELES - Civil liberties lawyers today will argue the curious case of an Orange County man who has been held by immigration officials since July for overstaying his student visa two decades ago.
Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan, the father of six U.S.-born children, who holds a valid work permit and has a pending green-card application, faces deportation to Jordan.
In denying Hamdan's bond request last week, a San Pedro immigration judge cited U.S. officials' claim that Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, a now-defunct Islamic charity where Hamdan once worked as a fund-raiser, was linked to the terrorist group Hamas.
In re Hamdan, A93240763 (U.S. Immigration Ct., San Pedro, Nov. 22, 2004).
Judge D.D. Sitgraves labeled Hamdan, a Muslim born in a Palestinian refugee camp, a national security risk.
Hamdan, 44, has denied any knowledge of a link between the charity and the group. In his motion for bail, he noted that he began working for Holy Land in 1990, seven years before the State Department designated Hamas a terrorist organization.
"This is a man who has been in the United States for 24 years," his daughter, Yaman Hamdan, 20, a prelaw student at Chapman College, said. "He's never even had a parking violation."
"They take him away from his family and kids," she said. "Where's the justice in that?"
His lawyer, Marc Van Der Hout of San Francisco, has filed a motion asking Sitgraves to recuse herself from the case on the grounds that she is prejudiced after denying bond based on her finding that Hamdan had ties to at least two terrorist groups.
One of the groups hasn't even been designated as a terrorist organization, but, Sitgraves noted in her ruling, it could be in the future.
Van Der Hout also is filing for permanent residency status for Hamdan and, barring that, asylum. The hearing, at immigration court at Terminal Island prison, is expected to last all week, Van Der Hout said.
Ahilan T. Arulanantham and Ranjana Natarajan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California are named as co-counsel.
FBI and immigration agents arrested Hamdan at his Buena Park home July 27, the same day that seven members of the charity were indicted in Texas on federal charges of aiding Hamas.
Hamdan was not named in the indictment.
Hamdan's wife, Entesar Hamdan, said she believes the government is trying to pressure her husband to testify against the defendants, even though, she added, he told investigators several years ago everything he knew.
"It doesn't take a smart person to know what's going on," she said.
Van Der Hout said the bottom line is that the government is holding Hamad because it thinks it can get away with it.
"And it can," he said, because an immigration hearing is an administrative procedure and not subject to the due-process rules of federal court.
"It's a situation where there is no risk at all, and they can act with impunity ... because it's an administrative proceeding," Van Der Hout said. "It's not until you get into federal court that you get any justice."
As an example, he pointed out, five of the seven Holy Land officers indicted in Texas have been released on their own recognizance; two others were out of the country when the indictments came down and remain fugitives. Meanwhile, Hamdan remains in custody.
He is among an untold number of immigrants labeled national security threats because they allegedly belong to one of 27 organizations designated as terrorist groups by the State Department, Van Der Hout said.
Most if not all of these immigrants, including Hamdan, have never been charged with terrorism.
Lawyers for Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau, Richard Vinet, Edward Lepkowitz, Robert Bryant and Megan Turkat-Schirn, would not comment.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, said the agency detains people on immigration violations for a number of reasons, from posing a flight risk to more serious concerns.
"This is a case where the circumstances involved merit his being held without bond," Kice said, referring to Hamdan's purported links to Hamas. She declined to elaborate, saying the case will be litigated fully in court.
Entesar and Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan came to the United States in 1983 from Jordan, according to court documents. Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan earned an engineering degree from USC and worked as a civil environmental engineer before becoming a full-time fund-raiser for the Holy Land Foundation.
When authorities froze the foundation's funds after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan became a paid fund-raiser for another Islamic charity, Life for Relief and Development, Entesar Hamdan said.
During their time here, both Abdel-Jabbar and Entesar Hamdan have applied for amnesty based on their length of residence, Entesar Hamdan said.
After Sept. 11, she said, authorities questioned her husband briefly, along with other Middle-Eastern men. When a special registration program for Middle Eastern and other men was announced, she said, her husband went to the immigration office, and authorities told him his immigration papers were all in order.
A year later, when federal authorities were investigating the foundation's ties to Hamas, she said, her husband paid his own way to Dallas for a six-hour interview with the FBI.
The next time she heard from the government, she said, was when FBI and immigration agents came knocking at her door at 4:45 a.m. the morning of her husband's arrest.
They asked to see Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan's immigration papers and then searched the house, including the bedroom where her two sons, ages 7 and 10, were sleeping, she said. Her other four children were visiting relatives in Jordan.
As they took her husband away in handcuffs, she said, one of the agents told her, "Have a nice day."
"Can you imagine?" she said.
The incident so traumatized her two children, she said, that they have insisted on sleeping in her bedroom and are afraid to go upstairs alone or take a shower without leaving the bathroom door open so they can keep her in sight.
She said she immediately phoned her daughter, Yaman, in Jordan and ordered her and the other children to cut short their visit and return home.
The family has visited Hamdan at the Terminal Island detention center every visiting day since his arrest, she said, adding that it's the longest they have been separated since their marriage.
"It's a case that has really sent shock waves through the [Orange County Islamic] community," said Long Beach lawyer Ban Al-Wardi, who has represented the family over the years.
"It has kept people from speaking out," added Al-Wardi, who also is president of the local Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.
In denying bond, Sitgraves acknowledged that, while the Department of Homeland Security argued that Hamdan was a national security risk, it has not charged him with being a risk or a terrorist.
Nonetheless, she wrote, the District Court and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia have found that the Holy Land Foundation is a terrorist organization based on incontrovertible evidence tying the foundation to Hamas. Those links have been widely reported in newspaper articles, she noted.
The judge indicated that Hamdan was disingenuous when he claimed to be unaware of the foundation's ties to Hamas or terrorist activities.
She pointed out that he had admitted confronting the foundation officers about the allegations, and they assured him that they were completely unfounded.
"Respondent attempts to claim blind awareness and cultural skepticism when these articles were published in the newspapers and on websites," she wrote. "Yet, he did admit that he made phone calls about the allegations and charges against [the foundation]."
Sitgraves also noted that Hamdan attended a conference of the Islamic Association of Palestine, in which killing Jews was discussed, a claim Hamdan denied.
The judge found that Hamdan attended conferences in which songs were played that described terrorist activity. Hamdan contended that the songs were simply folk songs.
Sitgraves acknowledged that the Islamic Association of Palestine was not on the terrorist organization list, but she said that it could be in the future.
"He clearly participated and aided in the fundraising for two terrorist organizations in the United States that promoted terrorism abroad in Israel or by whatever means necessary, according to songs transcribed," Sitgraves wrote.
The Department of Homeland Security has established Hamdan's "membership with two organizations in the United States with a propensity for violence and affiliation or association with terrorist organizations," she wrote.
This membership, Sitgraves added, began before the foundation was designated as a terrorist organization and before the Islamic Association of Palestine's "designation in the future."
"This court, therefore, finds that respondent was a member or affiliated with one, if not two, national terrorist organizations," she wrote. "He is a danger to the community and a risk to national security."
Van Der Hout responded with the motion asking the judge to recuse herself from the case.
"The court's crystal ball approach to the facts and the law has no place in the administrative or judicial legal system in our country and demonstrates the clear bias this court has in this case that necessarily prevents her from making a fair determination - based on actual evidence presented - in this case," Van Der Hout wrote.